Rocketship Entertainment has been publishing webtoons in print since it launched in 2019, when it was one of the first publishers to do so. Rocketship crowdfunds most of its titles, which include the best-seller Let’s Play by Leean Krecic. ICv2 talked to CEO and Publisher Tom Akel about the trends he’s seeing in webtoons, the continued popularity of romance and “romantasy,” and what’s coming up next from Rocketship.

Rocketship has been publishing webtoons for five years now. What trends are you seeing?
The biggest trend I've seen is more and more players entering this space of getting webtoons into print. Since Rocketship started doing that back in 2019, Penguin Random House has jumped in there, Oni has jumped in there, Skybound is doing some webcomics now, Yen Press has a whole imprint around it, and then, of course, Webtoon started their own. It was inevitable once the success of Let's Play hit that there would be much more competition and understanding of how successful digital comics can be in print and that it's not just something people only want to read on their phone.

What about the number of creators? Has that increased, or is it has it stayed the same?
Industry wise, to me, it feels like it's flattened a bit. That said, we're still getting creators sending submissions all the time. A lot of them are on the UGC sections of Webtoon and Tapas.

Like Webtoon Canvas?
Yeah, and we still get creators who are Featured or Originals creators. That hasn't ended. But industry wise, I feel like the curve is starting to slow down in terms of what the overall webtoon industry and market has been. I know there's lots of numbers out there in terms of profit and IPOs and things like that, but it definitely doesn't seem like the creator frenzy that was there five years ago exists the same way today.

In terms of sales, there are a handful of very successful titles such as Lore Olympus, but beyond that top level, what does it look like, like? Are there a few best-sellers and then everything else is in the depths, or is there a middle to it? Is it top-heavy?
The short answer is yes, it's top-heavy. I look at the BookScan numbers across all the publishers who are putting out webtoons. Our BookScan numbers are probably pretty deceiving, because we do so much crowdfunding, so you can look at our crowdfunding numbers and see what's working, but, yeah, it's top-heavy, like everything else. It's top-heavy on the platforms as well, so it makes sense that it's top-heavy elsewhere.

I don't think it's any different than Netflix or Amazon or Apple, or any other print publisher. Image has its Walking Dead and Saga and Spawn, and BOOM! has Something Is Killing the Children and Once and Future and Power Rangers. Everybody has their hits. So I think it's kind of the same sort of cadence as the rest of entertainment.

That makes sense, because it’s how publishing works. It just seems more noticeable with webtoons because the numbers are all out there.
But the 10 million page views on a on a comic might result in a print run of sales of 2,000 units. There's no one-to-one. Lore Olympus is the obvious exception. It’s something that really hit the zeitgeist in a big way. And then Let's Play for us, True Beauty for Webtoon Unscrolled, and Covenant has done very well at Oni, but you're not going to see a ton of that. You’ll a few that are really solid.

Are you seeing best-sellers support books with smaller followings?
There's tons of crossover appeal for the titles. On the Rocketship side, we see a lot of crossover between the fans of Let's Play and The Croaking, which is a YALSA best book for teens and does extraordinarily well on its own.

Do you think the fans are following the creators or the genres?
Fans definitely follow their favorite creators, so yes to that. People tend to be fans of a title, the same way I'll watch a show on every different streamer. I'm not loyal necessarily to a publisher or a platform. Content is king.

One trend we have seen with webtoons is the popularity of romance and “romantasy.” Is that holding strong?
Romance still holds strong for us. Our most successful title was Let's Play, so our initial fan base came out of that. When we cross-market titles, it’s easy to see. If there wasn't really high demand, you wouldn't see the sales numbers that you see on those titles, so obviously, there's really high demand.

What books do you suggest comics retailers carry? What’s going to be popular?
We announced the Let’s Play anime series at New York Comic Con last year, and retailers should be carrying that. we’ll have the anime series next year, so there’s obviously a lot of momentum behind that. Covenant at Oni is really good and doing really well

The way I discuss it with retailers at ComicsPRO is, most carry something like Heartstopper. So if they carry Heartstopper, my next question is, “Does it sell?” If your shop has that customer or is trying to reach that customer, and that's a book that you're putting on shelves and you want to sell, then I'll go down our list of romance titles from all the publishers that really are the ones retailers should pay attention to. It's case by case. What works for you as a retailer?

What’s coming up next from Rocketship?
We just Kickstarted Cinnamon Roll earlier this year. It’s an original romance series, and we’re working on a hardcover edition of that now. We're in the middle of our campaign for the first Witch Creek Road omnibus, which was extraordinarily successful horror webtoon. We're doing volume one in paperback for retail later this year, and then the omnibus. Coming up soon, we have Apocalyptic Horseplay.  We have more volumes of Faded Away this year.  A lot of volume twos and threes of things that already do well for us.

Then we have Sanford Green's webtoon 1000, which won the Ringo for best webcomic in 2018. We're running that on Zoop in July. That is something that retailers can certainly hand sell to readers of the current Doombook, which is selling out everywhere, and Bitterroot, and everything else that Sanford has done over the years.

I should say we always have retailer tiers in all of our [crowdfunding] campaigns (see “Rocketship to Add Retailer Tiers to All Kickstarters”).

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